Monday, May 29, 2006

Update: Shame-Faced

The Cold War may be over, but I’m still tangling with the Russians. At our spin-off blog, I head underground with Dostoevsky.

Book: Out There In The Dark, by Wesley Strick (2006)

Strick is a screenwriter with some big films to his credit. Dark is his first novel. (In this Los Angeles Times op-ed piece, he explains the differences between the two forms.)

As might be expected, it’s a Hollywood tale, set in the ‘40s. Harley Hayden is an up-and-coming actor who’s dating the daughter of a powerful studio head and starring in the proto-noir The Big Betrayal. His only problem is that the film’s director, an UFA refugee reborn in America as Derek Sykes, seems to have it in for him. Hayden hires a disgraced ex-cop to find out why.

It’s my kind of material – politicos, cops and movie stars crossing paths with jazzbos, Nazis and crazy headshrinkers. I only wish I could have loved it. The book suffers from a severe case of Ellroy envy, and the first half is slow; it’s as if Strick, after years of hustling to the next scene, doesn’t know what to do with the newfound ability to take his time. The book improves as it goes along, when the pace is more movie-like. But there are still a few howlers in the prose, as when one previously urbane character feels as if he’s “been crapped out of death’s own asshole.”

Hayden is clearly a gloss on Ronald Reagan. But Strick makes numerous references to an unnamed film which is obviously Murder in the Air, one of Reagan’s Brass Bancroft adventures. (It’s the one featuring a weapon called “the inertia projector,” which bears a striking similarity to Reagan’s beloved ‘Star Wars’ project.) Hayden even goes to see the movie. But if the fictional Reagan encounters the real one, won’t that cause a rip in the space-time continuum? And what becomes of Reagan if Harley Hayden assumes his career path? Would he end up playing Jock Ewing on Dallas? It’s questions like these that keep me from reading a lot of historical fiction.